by Michael Kelley
Life is a circle sometimes. I remember when I was a kid, I would read stories of imaginary lands, dragons, time travel, and almost anything else. But then I started to grow up, and I read about mathematical equations, historical events, and current news. Then I grew up some more and I read about all those same things, just in 140 character snippets. And now I’m finding myself back where I started, reading again about those same old lands and dragons and spaceships.
As I get older, I’m finding myself reading more and more fiction. Specifically, many of the stories I read as a kid. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Encouragingly, neither did CS Lewis:
“A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.”
Here are five reasons why you should consider picking up some of these books as an adult:
1. Children’s stories will stretch your imagination.
The imagination is a muscle, given to us by God. And like any muscle, without regular exercise, it will atrophy. But when you work it out, it grows stronger and stronger. This growth, I think, is something that we start to lose as we grow older. We lose our sense of wonder; we lose our ability to imagine. Though there a lot of causes for that loss I’m sure, I think it’s mainly due to our refusal to take advantage of the opportunities for wonder God has put before us in every day life. And those opportunities are there. As Elizabeth Browning said, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; the rest sit round and pluck blackberries.” Chesterton had a similar take: “Contemporary society has become dry, not for lack of wonders but for lack of wonder.”
2. Children’s stories echo the kingdom story.
Not every story is an allegory that points directly to the gospel, just as not every fiction writer is a Christian trying to communicate biblical truth. But I’m finding more and more than through reading fiction and specifically children’s books, I’m pointed to the grand cosmological narrative we are all swept up into. Sometimes it’s through seeing a conflict between good and evil; at other times it’s through seeing a vision of the future that I know not to be true because of God’s Word. But in either case, I’m reminded of the bigger story and I’m compelled to not only consider what I’m reading, but to fall in love again and again with the story I’m in.
3. Children’s stories forge the bond between our heart and head.
I remember days, older days, when I did not read fiction. I was pursuing a graduate degree in seminary, and most all of my time was spent reading extensive theological texts, or church history texts, or biblical commentary texts. Those were rich days, but I also remember feeling the incredible irony of a dry and dusty soul. It was like being surrounded by water and yet not feeling the satisfaction of drinking. In retrospect, I think I felt that way because I was cramming my head with knowledge but I wasn’t feeling any of it – I was reading for the sake of the knowledge alone. But in reading fiction, I’m forced to not only process information at an intellectual level but also confront that information with my emotions. This is something that stories can do uniquely well, and when we blaze the trail of those two feet between the heart and the head, it’s easier to travel that path again and again.
4. Children’s stories provide a means of non-lazy escape.
I like to watch sports on television, and it doesn’t really matter what kind. Or what team for that matter. Because I don’t have a strong allegiance to any baseball, football, or badminton squad, I can watch a game or match without stress. In short, watching sports doesn’t require anything from me. Funny enough, though, is that I find myself getting up from watching sports and feeling just as tired as I was when I sat down. Laziness is like that – it might provide temporary respite but it does little to energize you for the rest of the day. But fiction is different. It’s a means of escape and relaxation, but I also find that because you are engaged in what’s happening before you, you get up from reading not only rested, but also with renewed vigor for what’s to come next.
5. Children’s stories remind me that I am still a child.
And I am. And so are you. We wear the tent of adulthood, but boil it all away, and we are the children of God for all eternity. Oh, sure – it’s easy to forget that. It’s easy to get swept up into the everyday life of bills and mortgages and elections and all the other super-adult things we have to (and should) be doing. But way down deep we are children. Fiction reminds me of that. It reminds me that in the midst of all the complexity there is still simplicity, and that every day is made up of a lot of singular choices which, at the core, are really based in whether or not we believe our Father loves and provides for us.
It is a glorious thing to be a child. It is an unmistakable miracle to be a child of God.
So, friends, if you’re reading this today, can I suggest that you pick up something else? Something that will tell you a story? Something that will sweep up your imagination, capture your heart, and echo the kingdom? I hope you will, and I hope you’ll find yourself reminded again what it means to be a kid.